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MR HO'S ORCHESTROTICA - The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel

MR HO'S ORCHESTROTICA - The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel
Private Label TIKI001

Mexican band leader Juan Garcia Esquivel was an arranger of a range of music. Of the 11 tracks here, only one is his own composition: the others are drawn from jazz, film, and "the popular music of the mid 20th century, Jim." But the arrangements are pure Esquivel. Take the opening number, Andalucia: in two and a half minutes it spans Spanish fiesta, spaghetti westerns, Star Trek, sultry bossa nova, and Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey. All the effects are acoustic (okay, there is some electric guitar), all the recordings are live, and all the fun of seventies OTT is recreated by Mr Ho. Each track has been transcribed by ear, to produce a passable facsimile of the original recordings which are now obscure at best. To be fair, you can find Esquivel on Amazon - but check out first.

Why would you bother? Why, particularly, would a folk and traditional music fan like me be interested in the king of space age pop? Two reasons. First, the Lounge style which Esquivel pioneered and inspired has influenced many folk musicians: the entire jazz-swing side of Shetland music personified by the late Peerie Willie Johnson, the bluesy fiddle of the southern USA (think Casey Driessen), more drummers than you can shake a stick at, and plenty of eclectic young Irish musicians from Riverdance to Rig the Jig. In fact, Esquivel arranged many traditional Mexican and Brazilian songs, and took more than a little from tropical or tiki music. Second, Esquivel's music is such fun! From his outrageous experiments with stereo to his fondness for glissando and cartoon-style percussion, Esquivel was the first to record many of the sounds which enliven performances by the more irreverent folk performers. From the hilarious Old Rope String Band to the cacophonous Treacherous Orchestra, the humorous riffs of John James or Chris Newman, the rasping reeds of Brendan Power or Mairtin O'Connor, there are hundreds of folk performers who owe a debt of gratitude to this Mexican maverick.

So to hell with categories and pigeon-holes. Feast your ears on Frenesi and compare it to your favourite Madagascan guitarists or Bulgarian clarinetists. Sink into Sentimental Journey the way you would with a klezmer horo. Treat Take the A Train as a travelling blues from Tijuana, see Dancing in the Dark as a slightly surreal substrain of Tibetan temple chants. Eqsuivel's own composition Mini Skirt combines the rhythms of traditional Latin dance music and the whooping of front-porch or Cajun styles with a cool jazz sound that could easily fit Bela Fleck or Alison Brown. Do whatever it takes, but don't miss the enjoyment of this marvellous music which has offered so many possibilities to performers in all genres. World music surely has room for Juan Garcia Esquivel.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.